I woke up with the alarm clock I’d set for ten in the morning. I was going to join Mr. C. for breakfast, and Diantha and Gladiola were coming to collect me. I wondered if the sisters ate. They must have, because I was sure they didn’t drink blood like vampires. Hm! I guessed I’d find out soon enough. I lied still for a minute, waiting for the sleep to leave my eyes, and that’s when I felt it: the first kick.
“Oh, sweetie… you had to do that now when Daddy’s asleep,” I murmured, pressing my belly on the spot where I’d felt the bump. Nothing happened. I’d been feeling other things, and half the time I wasn’t sure if it was gas or the baby moving. Talk about my body being a wonderland! But the kick was new.
I looked over at Eric. He’d fallen asleep curled up against me. He would get a kick out of knowing the baby had kicked me. I giggled. Then I looked around the room, sitting up and extricating myself from Eric’s heavy limbs. The light inside the room came in strange. I could see outside just fine, and it wasn’t dark inside by any stretch of the imagination. Whatever the glass on the windows was doing it made the room look a dull orange. I was pretty sure it blocked all the different types of radiation that harmed vampires. From what I could tell, the day was sunny. I turned on the TV briefly to find out the temperature. It was already seventy degrees. That was pleasant for a northern city.
By the time the sisters knocked on my door I was wearing a pretty babydoll dress in pink with darker pink flowers stamped on the fabric, a white hoodie (which I left open) and a pair of white ballet flats. I looked cute, and the cut of the dress disguised me very well. I had put my hair half up, to show off a pair of gold hoop earrings that Eric had given me the previous Sunday for Mother’s Day. I was almost positive that the gift had been Pam’s idea, but one doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I’d learned that lesson eventually.
The demon sisters were smiling pleasantly when I opened the door, and both their gazes zoomed to my belly the minute they saw me. Their smiles widened.
“Yawilltell us howithappened?” Gladiola asked first. The two sisters looked alike, even when they were as different as day and night. Gladiola wore her hair black in a cute pixie cut that only she could pull off. Her eyes, just like Diantha’s, were a color of brown that almost looked orange. And their dress styles were significantly different. Gladiola wore a pair of jeans, with a simple red tee, and a pair of sneakers. Diantha was a little wilder in her dress choice. Today she was wearing a tie dyed sleeveless shirt, a short ruffled skirt in white, and a pair of scary snake print gladiator sandals. And, of course, her trademark silver hair in spikes. I half expected her to be pierced everywhere, but neither sister was, not anywhere that I could see, anyway.
“I’ll tell you everything, but not here. Maybe later we can go for a walk?” I said, hoping they would join me outside. A day spent indoors was sure to have me tearing at the walls.
“We’llgotodapark!” Diantha said and gave a tiny jump, like she had been really looking forward for an excuse to go to the park. “Da Millennium Park. Isbeautiful!”
I smiled. “Okay!” I agreed and locked the door. During the day the only cards that worked to open the door were mine and Eric’s. Not even the management had access to the vampire rooms while the sun was out, or so we were told. But for extra added protection, in rooms where a “day-walker” (usually a human) spent the day with a vampire, we were given an actual key that could lock the door from the outside.
The sisters and I headed to one of the three restaurants that radiated from the main lobby. The lobby had regular glass surrounding it, and I could finally appreciate what a truly beautiful day it was outside. Mr. C. was already at the restaurant and had gotten us a table. The smell of food made my tummy rumble, and I was very happy that the table already had an assortment of rolls and small Danishes waiting for us.
I dug in immediately. Our server filled our cups with coffee and took our orders, and my one question was answered. The demon sisters ate, alright. They had ordered more food than me or even Mr. C., who was a portly gentleman. As we made small talk about the weather, and how good the coffee and rolls were, I looked around and saw them. They were the strangest women I’d ever seen. It wasn’t so much their faces, or their build (I couldn’t tell how tall they were because they were sitting). Their clothes were unlike anything I’d ever seen. Diantha was sitting beside me and followed my open stare to see what had me looking puzzled.
“Them’s Britlingens,” she said in a whisper.
My eyebrows shot up into my hairline and I nodded. I’d heard of those. Pam had explained to me what they were. Eric wanted to bring one of those women to guard the baby and me? They looked a little scary. They were eating in silence, and nothing about their demeanor would point to scary, but, again, their clothes… They were both wearing black suits, more like armors than suits. The fabric looked like wet leather, and it moved fluidly, more like cotton than leather. They finished their breakfast and stood up. One was tall, taller than me for sure, the other was petite. I tried to read their minds, but found a similar type of buzz as my companions’ minds. I stopped being so rude and put my shields back up.
“Somebody who has a lot of money summoned them, I gather,” Mr. C. commented.
“Eric made it sound like it was prohibitively expensive,” I said. I hadn’t gotten a number from him.
“Yes it is. It costs several million dollars to have a witch summon them then you have to negotiate a price for the length of time they will stay. If they don’t like what they hear in negotiation, they leave and you’re out millions of dollars. I’ve only ruined one negotiation and I learned quickly after that,” Mr. C. said chuckling.
“You’ve had them summoned?” I asked lowering my voice.
“Not me, goodness no. I have merely led the negotiations,” Mr. C. answered good-naturedly. I nodded and dropped the subject. I knew exactly how much money my husband had in every account. He wouldn’t exactly break the bank if he summoned the Britlingens, but it would be close.
I took advantage now that I was feeling good enough to eat, and ate as much food as my body would accept. It was not nearly as much as Diantha and Gladiola put away. When we were done Mr. C. paid for breakfast (it would all go on the Queen’s tab) and excused himself because he had work to do in his room, while Diantha, Gladiola, and I got ready to go for a walk (me by visiting the ladies’). We walked slowly, since we were all full as ticks.
The sights and sounds of the city of Chicago were unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Shreveport was a city, but it didn’t compare. New Orleans didn’t either. I imagined that New York City would be the only place that could possibly compare to Chicago. Everything moved so fast. The architecture was so massive. And here and there shots of beauty: a bridge over a canal, and arch, a sculpture. At the Millennium Park we saw a beautiful fountain, flanked on one side by columns. We admired it and took pictures, then followed a long climbing walk to an outdoor amphitheatre that looked more like a space ship. It was silent, so Diantha and Glad (as she insisted I call her) went to the stage to show off. They twirled and sang with me as their audience. I clapped and hooted like a maniac. Nobody would ever accuse me of not being an enthusiastic part of the audience.
We kept walking east and soon came across the strangest sculpture I’d ever seen. It looked like a shiny silver kidney bean, about the size of several buses. We stood in front of it, watching our own reflections and seeing the whole city behind us. It was interesting. We took more pictures. As we kept walking we found another large fountain, with two giant rectangular structures that showed videos at the same time that served as giant water spouts. They were at least two stories tall. There were tons of kids and some adults running around under the fountains in their bathing suits. We sat nearby on an empty bench, and did some people watching while we talked.
I told the girls about Eric’s goddess blessing the stones that Eric had turned into a necklace, and that his gesture of giving me the necklace allowed us to conceive, and that it had been Eric’s one true wish. They didn’t seem surprised by anything I said. I remembered they belonged to the same magical realm as angels and deities, so obviously what seemed like a miracle to me was simply a magical act to them.
“Do you think anybody else can tell I’m pregnant?” I asked the girls.
“Ya arehiding it well. Onlywe canseeda auras,” Glad said.
“Maybesomeone whoknowsya willseeda change inya,” Diantha offered.
We headed back to the hotel. I was feeling like I could use a nap. We had a long night ahead, judging solely by the schedule, and I was expected to hang around the Queen whenever she went out in public.
At the lobby, who should approach me but Quinn with the roaming eyes. Glad immediately stood half in front of me, putting herself as a barrier.
“Good afternoon, Sookie. It’s so nice to see you. You’re looking very beautiful today,” Quinn said, taking in my more-ample-than-usual bosom and tanned legs. Jerk!
“Hello, Quinn,” I said and started to move. I could be rude if he was going to be rude too, right? If he was going to look at me like I was something to eat, then I could be curt no matter what he’d done for me.
“How is your cousin?” Quinn asked. I noticed his polo shirt had the (Extreme)ly Elegant Events logo on it. It was three E’s, the first one in parenthesis.
“I have three cousins. They’re all doing well. If you will excuse me, I need to rejoin my husband,” I said, and started moving towards the bank of elevators again. Quinn reached for me and quickly discovered that was a mistake. Diantha put her hand up next to her face, palm out and Glad made a sword appear out of thin air, training it under Quinn’s chin. I knew without being told that Diantha would incinerate whatever she was looking at, and Glad would slice Quinn from his throat to his manhood if he so much as moved. “I’m sorry, Quinn, but I’m very tired and have a long night ahead. I have to go rest,” I said, pretending I couldn’t see the sisters.
Quinn lowered his arm slowly, never taking his eyes off his closest opponent (that would be Glad).
“Do not touch what is not yours,” said a woman behind Quinn. I raised my eyes only to see one of the Britlingens, the tall one. For sure she’d heard the whole exchange. She put her hand on Quinn’s shoulder and turned him around. “I must speak with you about security,” she said with a heavy accent.
Diantha grabbed my hand and pulled me to follow her. Glad followed behind us. They didn’t relax until they had delivered me to my room.
“Ugh! That Quinn! What did Claudine see in him?” I asked of nobody at all, alone in our bedroom. Eric was still dead to the world. I knew what Claudine had seen: a pretty face and killer body. And then she had regained her sanity and dumped his butt.
I took off my shoes and jewelry, too tired to change, and got back in bed. I must have been really tired because I fell asleep immediately and didn’t wake up until Eric woke me. He was talking to my belly in Old Norse.
“Hey, honey,” I said, still drowsy.
“The baby kicked me as soon as I awoke,” Eric said, snaking a hand up my skirt so he could put it flat on my belly.
“Oh, really! I felt her kick earlier when you were asleep. I’m so happy she listened to me and did it again while you were awake,” I said and snickered.
“Can you hear his mind?” Eric asked. He liked to be antagonistic and call the baby a boy. He’d asked me before if I could hear the baby’s mind, and just like before I had to answer in the negative. I was pretty sure I’d be able to hear her eventually, when she wasn’t inside me seeing nothing and hearing only the steady thumping of my heart.
“Go get ready while I order your dinner. It will be better if you eat here,” he said. Translation: the least amount of time spent in the company of others, the better. I wasn’t going to argue. I stood up slowly and started for the bathroom when I felt him grab my hand. He turned me around and admired my dress. “You look beautiful,” he said, sitting up and bringing me closer.
“Thank you. I’m sure my hair’s a mess,” I mumbled, trying to fix my hair a little.
Eric shook his head. “You look beautiful,” he repeated, pulling me down to kiss me. “I wish we had time to make love,” he whispered against my lips and groaned.
“We don’t have time?” I asked, running my hands over his shoulders then down over his chest. “Not even for a quickie?” Even as I said the words I knew my arousal was building. I decided to tease him before he answered.
I pulled away and shrugged. I took off my panties, bending over to run them over my legs. I unzipped my dress and let it fall to the floor. I stepped out of it and bent to pick it up. I could already hear a little bit of growling from the peanut gallery. Finally I took off my bra and walked away with my dirty clothes. As soon as I took the first step I was pulled back to the bed.
I laughed in triumph and Eric smiled with me shaking his head. “You’re a conniving little thing, aren’t you?” he asked, opening my legs and gliding inside me easily. I couldn’t answer him with anything other than a moan. He held his body up with one arm and reached between us with the other, to tease my little nub. I took the opportunity to tease him too, rubbing his nipples until they were hard peaks.
All that teasing worked us into a frenzy of need pretty fast and we were both chanting the other’s name in no time. I exploded under him and took him with me. Whatever else happened tonight, at least we had relieved that small source of tension. We kissed lazily for a moment before I announced I had to pee and ran away. I heard him laughing in the bedroom. Must be nice not to have to use the bathroom at the drop of a hat… or at all.
I took a shower and got ready for the night, emerging just as Eric was putting my tray on the small table near the windows. Too late I realized that we hadn’t closed the curtains. Oh, well… whoever was looking (from several blocks away and with a pair of binoculars) had just gotten a show… IF there had been anybody.
I ate dinner while Eric took his shower and got ready, and then I got dressed in a pleated jersey dress that came down to my knees, a dark beige blazer, two-inch heels in black, and my new gold hoops. And Freyja’s necklace and my fairy amulet stuck to the inside of my bra. Never leave home without them. I doubted I would need any of my protectors, but nobody wanted to take any chances, least of all me.
We were joined by Pam and Thalia outside of our rooms and by Mr. C. and the demon sisters on our way up to see the Queen. When we got to the fourth floor the Queen was right there with all her people, waiting for the elevator. We squeezed together (Eric pressing me against a corner) and as soon as the elevator doors closed Diantha and Glad started talking up a storm. Diantha looked at me and winked a signal that I should play along.
“Itlookedlike a deflatedball, itdid,” Glad said. “Allshinyan’ stuff.”
“Nah! It looked more like a kidney bean made out of a mirror,” I countered. I wasn’t yet sure why they wanted me to talk, but they were protectors too, and if they wanted me to talk I talked.
“It was huge, ‘boutdasize ofvahouse!” Diantha said waving her arms and smacking somebody in the head. I wasn’t sure who, but that somebody hissed in response.
“Not that big, maybe the size of three school buses,” I played along.
“What are you girls talking about?” Pam asked, getting into the spirit.
“We wenttoda Millennium Park aftabreakfastan’ sawdasculpture,” Glad explained.
“And Diantha and Glad put on a show in the amphitheatre. It was a moving performance,” I said shooting the girls a smile from where I was squeezed behind Eric.
“Thank you!” they chimed in unison and the elevator doors opened on the twenty sixth floor, where the conference rooms and ballrooms were located.
We filed out of the elevator. The floor was already heavy with other visitors, and Eric didn’t wait to thread my arm into his. Pam and Thalia took their positions and we followed everyone into the busy main corridor. This was where the vendors were located. They sold everything from caskets, to fang enhancements, music to… a certain database. I looked away as we passed by it. One of the other Louisiana sheriffs, a smiley large woman named Cleo Babbitt, was helping Bill with the transactions. Bill was trying his best to look friendly whenever anybody asked him a question. His whole upper arm had grown back already, but I didn’t want to look at him too closely.
“Her Majesty needs Sookie by her side,” Andre said to us before going back to his spot behind Sophie-Anne.
My heart sank. This was it, what I’d come here for. I looked up at Eric and he tried his best to give me an encouraging smile, but he couldn’t fool me. Thalia took my arm and threaded it through hers, just like Eric had done, except she was much smaller and didn’t make me feel as safe. Not that I wasn’t safe (Thalia was significantly stronger than Eric), but I didn’t feel as safe. I got over it and let go of Eric. Thalia and I made our way to Sophie-Anne’s side. She was being approached by the King of Kentucky, who was… alone? No, that couldn’t be right. Every regent had at least one bodyguard. I let down my shields and found two buzzing brains right behind him. That took me by surprise. The Britlingens were there, but invisible. They must have cast out some kind of force shield around him, because nobody approached within three feet of him.
I stopped listening to any of the audible conversations and searched with my brain, holding onto Thalia’s arm a little harder. She would have to steer me when it was time to move because I wouldn’t be listening to any verbal cues. She actually patted my hand reassuringly. We looked like two old biddies holding hands.
The onslaught of thoughts from humans and shifters was overwhelming. Everyone was excited about being here. There weren’t that many shifters, so I was able to tune out their hazy thoughts and concentrate on humans. Most of the humans there were either companions (read: food and sex), or employees. Therefore, most thoughts centered on sex or the tasks at hand. I risked a headache and kept my shields down as we walked through the crowd. Some people saw me as Thalia’s lover; that was interesting to watch. Some people wondered what was wrong with me that I was leaning so heavily on a vampire. I rectified my posture after that. I heard thoughts of official nature, and knew those were the people working security. As I heard with my ears the actual codes, I saw with my mind what they meant.
Intoxicated human in the men’s room. Okay we will check it out. Public feeding inside an empty ballroom. Someone stole a music CD from one of the tables. Two females arguing in the ladies’.
On and on it went, until I had to block out those thoughts. We were being approached by Stan Davis. He was wearing a sash that read Texas. Apparently he was the new King of Texas. Look at that! I smiled and looked at his companions. Isabel was there, looking well, and someone new. It was the bellboy. I knew I’d heard him.
I carefully shielded from Barry, but he had no such ability. He’d been doing the same thing I’d been doing, listening to everyone’s minds. He was also not tuning out the shifter brains like I had. I focused on his brain to see what he was picking up when we both heard it. It was a snarled thought that did not belong to a shifter brain. This was certainly a human brain, and it was so full of hate and malice that both Barry and I started. I closed my eyes briefly, trying to find the source. I could “see” so much better if I wasn’t being bombarded by my actual sight. I felt my heart pick up its rhythm and cold fear run down my back. I also felt Eric’s strong hands immediately on my shoulders. I shook my head. This was important. He could stay but he needed to not speak.
I opened my eyes and found Barry staring at me with a question in his eyes. “Can you hear me?” he thought very clearly at me. I nodded. “Did you hear that?” he asked me again.
I frowned and nodded. “We need to find the source,” I said to him silently and he nodded. We both ended up looking in the same direction. There was a man with a tray of True Blood and champagne glasses walking back to the service area. Barry saw him too. We knew it was him because the same brain broadcasted what he was seeing before him: the door to the service area and the tray in his peripheral vision.
Andre approached me and asked me what was wrong in a whisper. I told him about the man who had been thinking harm against vampires and he disappeared. So did Isabel from Stan’s entourage. They emerged with the man held by the two of them, and were quickly approached by the hotel’s security.
Now what? Would anybody believe that Barry and I had just read the man’s mind? Highly doubtful. Two large shifters that worked Security took the man away, and we all resumed our “Meet & Greet” as if nothing had happened. I felt Eric’s retreat. Thalia had not once let go of me.
We spent two more hours at this, and I was happy when it was time to go to one of the conferences so I could sit down and rest my brain. Of all things they could talk about, the lecture was on Employment Law. It made sense, I guessed, since all the regents and their sheriffs employed humans. It interested me insofar as my husband was the owner of several businesses. After the first hour or so, I got bored. I was sitting between Thalia and Andre. Eric was in the row behind us, and a few chairs away. I took out my phone.
What are you doing?
I texted Eric.
Looking at your neck,
he texted back. I’d worn my hair half up again, but my neck was sort of covered anyway by the collar of my blazer and my necklace.
You liar. You can’t see it.
I can see it and I want it. You’re making me hungry.
Oh, boy! Bad idea to start texting Eric in the middle of a conference. I kept going anyway. I need to use the ladies’.
I’ll go with you.
I saw him stand from the corner of my eye and I didn’t think twice. I whispered to Thalia that Eric was taking me to the bathroom, stood up and followed him out of the conference room to a side hall.
I found myself pinned to the wall with a hungry vampire kissing my neck over and over. I felt my skin flush and my desire flare. Claudette’s words about public places hammered at my brain, but this narrow hall off the conference room was too public. As if on cue, we heard someone clear their throat somewhere near us. Immediately I pulled Eric’s body to me, to hide a very happy gracious plenty that was straining the seams of his dress pants.
“You weren’t engaging in public feeding, were you, Northman?” From the sound of the purring voice I could tell it was Quinn.
“What do you want Quinn? Other than to interrupt an innocent kiss between husband and wife?” Eric asked, smirking.
“The head of security of the hotel sent me to find out how your wife and Stan Davis’ guy knew that the man they apprehended was in impostor,” Quinn answered. His voice had deepened. He meant business now. “I know how they did it, but would never dream of disclosing it before speaking to their respective employers.”
Of course Quinn would know of my abilities. He’d figured out I could read minds just like Claudine. Barry had behaved similarly, and Quinn added it all up. He wasn’t completely stupid. However, I hadn’t known that the man was an impostor, only that he meant to do harm. That was something I would have to explore with Claudine. I knew my power was limited to what a person was thinking, and trying to actively search someone’s mind hurt me. But that would have put all of us in serious trouble if that man had been able to think rationally and neither I nor Barry had picked up on his intentions. If I had no way to search inside somebody’s mind, then we were all vulnerable.
“Who was the man?” Eric asked, not moving from my grip.
“He was a Soldier of Light. That’s what the extremists from the Fellowship of the Sun are calling themselves nowadays. He stole a uniform from a dry cleaner and entered the hotel as an employee. With all the commotion from the summit, he went unnoticed. Thankfully, no matter what happens now, security will be doubled and measures have been taken to ensure that every employee that enters is properly identified.” Quinn nodded and left.
I hated to admit that I was scared. A Soldier of Light? Here? At a vampire summit? Were they putting together an act of terrorism? Did they mean to do harm in such a manner? I shuddered and hugged myself to Eric.